“When I got home late that night, the house was dark and Michelle was already asleep. After taking a shower and going through a stack of mail, I slipped under the covers and began drifting off. In that luminal space between wakefulness and sleep, I imagined myself stepping toward a portal of some sort, a bright and cold and airless place, uninhabited and severed from the world. And behind me, out of the darkness, I heard a voice, sharp and clear, as if someone were right next to me, uttering the same word again and again. No. No. No. I jolted out of bed, my heart racing, and went downstairs to pour myself a drink. I sat alone in the dark, sipping vodka, my nerves jangled, my brain in sudden overdrive. My deepest fear, it turned out, was no longer of irrelevance, or being stuck in the Senate, or even losing a presidential race. The fear came from the realization that I could win” , noted Barack Obama in his biography “ A Promised Land.”
In November of2008, Barrack Hussein Obama, then 47 years old, made history as the first African-American elected President of the United States. It was an American soap opera, it seemed. A few years earlier, when the new head of state was approaching 40, he was, in his own words, “broke”, after a humiliating defeat in his first attempt to be elected to Congress, while his marriage was strained:“I felt for perhaps the first time in my life that I had taken the wrong turn: that whatever reservoir and energy and optimism I thought I had, whatever potential I’d always banked on, had been used up on a fool’s errand”. An inexplicable ambition drove Obama. “It’s like you have a hole to fill,” his wife told him early on in their marriage. Self-doubt remained from being born a child of mixed race, and Obama wrote that he wondered “if I could ever really escape whatever it was in me that needed healing, whatever kept me reaching for more. Maybe it was impossible to disentangle one’s motives ... I recalled a sermon by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, called ‘The Drum Major instinct’. In it, he talks about how deep down, we all want to be first, celebrated for our greatness; we all want ‘to lead the parade’”.
Barack Obama wanted to lead the United States, and after only about three years as a U.S. Senator ,the trained lawyer and law professor decided to run, challenging, among others, Joe Biden, who also dreamed of being nominated the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Obama’s advisor David Axelrod warned his friend about the stress he would face during the presidential campaign:“The process can be exhilarating, but it’s mostly misery. It’s like a stress test, an EKG on the soul. The whole thing is so crazy, so undignified and brutal, that you have to be a little pathological to do what it takes to win, the former President quoted his friend in his memoir. Obama admitted: “If one of the qualifications of running for the most powerful office in the world was megalomania, it appeared I was passing the test”.For eight years as President, the Democrat influenced history. He left the White House “with unusually high approval ratings: 59 percent of Americans thought well of him according to Gallup—and that figure has held ever since. Outside the U.S. Obama recently displaced Bill Gates as the world’s most admired man, according to YouGov, which is handy as Obama is married to the world’s most admired woman” (The Guardian, Nov. 21, 2020). Thus it was no surprise that a publisher, New York’s Penguin/Random House, was ready to pay Barack Obama an estimated $65 million for,at least, two volumes of his life story. The first volume, A Promised Land, was released in the U.S. (first edition print run of three million copies) and 23 other countries on November 17, two weeks after the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Obama’s biography, predicted James Daunt, CEO of booksellers Barnes& Noble,“will sell as no other book has done since July 21,2007”—the date that Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows was released. The former President, who earns about $400,000 for a speech, reveals in his biography, a world of politics that encompasses drama and despair, triumph and tragedy, malice, hypocrisy, and intrigue. At times the author escapes into poetry and philosophy, including some sobering monologues, reflecting on his childhood without a father and the challenge of being a Black man in racist America. He quotes a comment from a well-meaning Black women, overheard by his wife: “losing an election might be better than losing a husband, the implication being that if I was elected I was sure to be shot”. “If you had to construct the unTrump”, wrote Jonathan Freedland in” The Guardian”,“Barack Obama is what you’d come up with: cerebral and well read; deliberative; self-critical to the point of self-doubt; a faithful husband and conspicuously devoted father”.
The 44th President of the United States began writing his book shortly after the end of his presidency: “after Michelle and I had boarded Air Force One for the last time and travelled west for a long deferred break”. In his preface, Obama noted :“The mood on the plane was bittersweet. Both of us were drained physically and emotionally, not only by the labours of the previous eight years but the unexpected results of an election in which someone diametrically opposed to everything we stood for had been chosen as my successor”. Jonathan Freedland noted, “if the Trump presidency had a defining theme ,it was it’s obsessive desire to destroy the record of Barack Obama”. In this connection, the irony of history written a few weeks ago is that the defeat of Donald Trump is a victory for Obama. A kind of third-term presidency is in the making, since dozens of his former advisors have been called back to the White House, and on January20, 2021, his friend and former Vice President, Joe Biden will move in.
Obama and Biden
Obama estimated it would take one year of labor to produce his first volume of memoirs, but missed the deadline by a few years. With the book he “wanted to pull the curtain back a bit and remind people that, for all its power and pomp, the presidency is still just a job and our federal government is a human enterprise like any other..”.After moving into the White House, Obama realized “that my heart was now chained to strategic considerations and tactical analysis, my convictions subject to counterintuitive arguments; that in the most powerful office on earth, I had less freedom to say what I meant and act on what I felt than I’d had as a senator”. And congressional opponents, particularly the Republican majority in the Senate, decided to sabotage any appointment, law or presidential directives, willing to reject or destroy, or at least limit Obama’s power:“I wondered, what my presidency was now reduced to? Fighting rearguard action to keep the Republicans from sabotaging the American economy and undoing whatever I’d done? Could I really hope to find common ground with a party that increasingly seemed to consider opposition to me to be its unifying principle, the objective that superseded all others?” It was, writes Obama, “as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted”.
Early in his Presidency, the Democrat realized that with each passing day, “the prospect of Republican cooperation appeared more and more like a distant mirage. Those who’d initially expressed interest in working with us , stopped returning our phone calls”. For some billionaire ideologues on the Republican side, stated the former President ,“all taxes were confiscatory, paving the road to socialism ;all regulations were a betrayal of free-market principles and the American way of life. They saw my victory as a mortal threat-which is why, shortly after my inauguration, they pulled together a conclave of some of America’s wealthiest conservatives in a smartly manicured resort in Indian Wells ,California, to map out a strategy to fight back . They didn’t want compromise and consensus. They wanted war”.
Joe Biden was present when the President revealed to his advisors that U.S.special forces would, on May 1, 2011, raid a compound near the Pakistani town of Abbottabad (35 miles north of Islamabad) to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The Vice President “weighed in against the planned raid,” Obama wrote in his biography, “arguing that given the enormous consequences of failure I should defer any decision until the intelligence community was more certain that bin Laden was in the compound… As has been true in every major decision I made as a president I appreciated Joe’s willingness to buck the prevailing mood and ask tough questions, often in the interest of giving me the space I need for my own internal judgement” .In his “A Promised Land”, Obama praises the qualities of his friend:“As for Joe, we couldn’t have been more different, at least on paper”. Biden is 19 years older (he just turned 78) and served for 35 years as a Senator (Obama for three). “IfI was seen as temperamentally cool and collected, measured in how I use my words, Joe was all warmth, a man without inhibitions, happy to share whatever popped into his head. It was an endearing trait for he genuinely enjoyed people”. On domestic issues, Biden was“smart and practical”, his experience in foreign policy was “broad and deep”. Obama’s newly found “brother Joe” also had a healthy ego. “He disliked the idea of playing second fiddle” and wanted to be“the last guy in the room on every major decision”. What made Obama chose Biden? His“gut feelings”, convinced him that Biden was“decent, honest, and loyal and when things got tough I could trust him”.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.